Tactics - "an action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end"
Last week saw the first taste of spring, with 18+ degree sunshine bathing the UK and the clocks shifting forward, drawing out the days for some extra riding. Perfect timing then for the 2022 Dirty Nocka Mountain bike endurance event.
Not to sound like a broken record, but this event took place at the classic venue of Cannock chase. I did say it was a popular place to ride and race! You won't hear me complaining though, I love the place!
Unfortunately, come race day, the spring weather had subsided and we were greeted with sub 5 degree temperatures and overcast skies. Luckily the event atmosphere and coffee stand were there to keep me warm, and if that didn’t work, I was sure 3-6 hours of riding would.
I had chosen to enter the 3-hour solo male category. I thought about 6 and quickly decided against it haha! The race kicked off early in the morning, so there wasn’t much time to be hanging around getting cold. Arriving at 8:30 for sign-on, it was all hands on deck getting the bike sorted, kit on and warmed up ahead of the start. That meant no course practice either, so I was racing blind.
The organiser had put together yet another epic course, and one that really tested the legs, being 5.7 miles with 667ft of elevation gain per lap. It would take us with some speed to the bottom of the valley near the Birches Valley Visitor Center, via some awesome tight, twisty and loamy single track. But punish us all way back to the campsite with a mix of shallow & long and short but steep climbs. It really did have something to challenge everyone, even the most experienced riders.
Come 10am we were all lined up. I missed the race to line so had to settle for a second row
start, something which would later cost. After a little waiting around the crowd began the 10second countdown and we were off! In what appears to be a common theme at the moment, I missed my pedal, so slipped back a bit and got swamped into the first corner. I did manage to leave the brakes off around the outside and make up a few spots but as we hit the first single track I'd been separated from the leading group and could see the gap opening up. I was a bit touchy about this and had to quickly adjust my tactics. I knew I needed to close the gap as soon as possible, but also had in mind it was a 3-hour event so not to go too deep. Over the first half of the lap, I worked my way past the other riders and onto the back of the pack but by this point, two riders had gone off the front.
Conscious of this and wanting to split the pack a bit I hit the front, put in some work and upped the pace through the technical sections. This worked and got halfway around lap 2, it was down to just two of us. I worked well with the other rider, sharing turns and trying to close the gap on the lead two and extend the gap on the trailing pack. This worked well for the next few laps, around an hour, and we were in a comfortable position. Luckily for me, the other three riders were all doing the 6hour race, so I was leading the 3 hour category.
Throughout the race, I was making sure to keep on top of my nutrition, with TORQ Energy bars and gels, and a mix of water and energy power in my camel pack. This is really key to endurance racing, because when you think you need to eat, it's often too late!. My fueling strategy seemed to play out perfectly.
Around the 2-hour mark, we were hitting quite a few backmarkers and unfortunately, I got caught behind during a technical section, which enabled a gap to open up to the rider I was with. Knowing I only had a lap or two left and with a healthy gap, I decided not to chase back on and just ride the rest at my own pace. 1.5 laps later, I popped out of the final single track with a smile on my face and crossed the line to take the win. Completing 6 laps in 2 hours and 42 minutes, knackerd haha!
Needless to say, I am stoked about that. A pretty good way to end the early season campaign, with three podiums in the bag. It’s a good confidence boost but as always there are still a few things I want to work on for future events.
Now it’s time to recover from pre-season training camp and put a few more bits of the jigsaw together, all with the aim of peaking for the first National XC on the 9th/10th of April.
Big shout out to the Mayer Active/Run and Ride team for putting together another top event and enabling us to kick start the season in style!
Thanks for reading!